Winner of a top prize at this year’s Cannes festival, the irresistibly charming debut feature from Juho Kuosmanen is a warm and cockeyed comedy-drama inspired by the real-life showdown between Finnish boxer Olli Mäki and American champion Davey Moore in 1962 Helsinki. Shot on monochrome 16mm in black and white with remarkable attention to period detail, the film centres on the preparation for Mäki's historic fight.
With the country in a mania over their surprise relevancy in the sporting world, Mäki is elevated to the status of national hero, a role that entails tedious press conferences, being on show for Helsinki high society events and ill-fitting advertising endorsements. This is all just something to persevere for the gentle soul who’d rather just be left alone with Raija (Oona Airola), the young woman whom he has recently fallen for. But Elis (Eero Milonoff), Olli's manager, is the exact opposite of his fighter. A former boxer, Elis is a showman who promises the press corps a "spectacle never seen in Finland" and so drives Olli on.
Director Kuosmanen’s command of tone and form here would impress at any stage of a career, but it’s remarkably his first feature. There is a team behind this film that speaks to the conventions of documentary but they bring life and vibrancy that lifts it off the screen.